8 Things You Should Know About Your Medical Records

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Lorna Collier and Susan McBratney, PhD on December 24, 2020
  • Doctor and patient discussing medical record in the hospital
    Get Smart About Your Medical Records
    You have high blood pressure and want to have a record of your care to help you manage this chronic condition, including putting everything into a new health app on your phone. Or you’ve been diagnosed with a new disease and want your test results and other information handy, so you can do research and consult with other health professionals.

    These are just two of many reasons why you might want a copy of your medical records. But, do you have a right to all your medical records? If so, how do you get them? Does it cost anything? Here’s an overview of what you need to know.
  • Young Asian American female medical staff member review files in file cabinet
    1. You have a right to your records—with some exceptions.
    Health insurers and healthcare providers are required to turn your records over to you upon request. It’s a right guaranteed by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The information protected under HIPAA includes your medical, billing and insurance records; imaging results; lab test results; and clinical case notes. There are, however, a few exceptions, including:

    • Psychotherapy notes
    • Records compiled as part of a lawsuit
    • Records your provider thinks could reasonably cause you or someone else harm if access is provided. This is the most common reason medical records access is denied. The provider must produce an explanation for denial in writing.
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    2. Your records may be easy to get online.
    Increasingly, health providers offer patient portals where you can access at least some of your medical records online, including test results and notes about your visits. About 92% of office-based physicians used electronic health record technology in 2018; most hospitals do as well. Depending on what information is on the portal, you may find all you need this way.

    If that’s not an option—or you don’t want to access the online portal—you’ll need to request your records, often in writing. The same goes if you want more information than what is on the portal, such as copies of X-rays. You may have to fill out a form or submit your request by email or via a website. However, providers can’t require people to use online means, since not everyone has Internet access. You also don’t have to give a reason why you want your records.
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    3. You may be charged a fee, even for electronic records.
    Providers are allowed to charge you a reasonable fee for copying paper records, which could be .25 to $1 per page. They also can charge to make digital copies if records are available electronically. The amount that can be charged varies from state to state. Your provider may charge a flat rate of $6.50, instead of calculating labor and cost fees for supplying medical records.
  • Older female Caucasian doctor in office looking at medical records
    4. You can request your medical records be sent to another person.
    In many cases, patients request their medical records for another healthcare provider to view. This is one of the major benefits of HIPAA and electronic health records. You have the right to direct any of your healthcare providers to send a copy (electronic or otherwise) of your medical records to any other person or provider you choose.
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    5. You should get your records within 30 days.
    Some providers may give you same-day access online. But HIPAA requires only that providers give you the information within 30 days—and they’re allowed to file for one (and only one) 30-day extension. Under HIPAA, providers are urged to supply the patient’s copy of medical records or EHR as soon as possible.
  • Female medical professional using telephone while working at desk with colleague in foreground
    6. State laws with greater rights to access medical records and PHI prevail over HIPAA.
    If you live in a state that provides greater rights than HIPAA to access your medical record and other protected health information (PHI), such as lower cost or time requirement (e.g., 10-day vs. 30-day turnaround time), the State law prevails. However, if a State law is contrary to HIPAA, such as a law blocking certain laboratories from providing all test records to the individual, then HIPAA prevails. Whenever you are exercising your right to access your PHI, HIPAA prevails.
  • Senior African American woman talking to adult daughter about paperwork or bills at laptop
    7. You can appeal if your request is denied.
    You may be told your medical record request can’t be granted because giving you your records violates privacy law. This is a common misconception, even among some healthcare workers. If this happens to you, ask to speak to the person in charge of records requests. (HIPAA requires there be someone designated for this task.)

    You can also appeal records denials to your state medical board or to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Your complaint must be submitted within 180 days of the denial.
  • Doctor with senior woman walking in hospital corridor
    8. Sharing your medical records can improve your care.
    Electronic health records hold advantages over paper ones—and not just because you don’t have to try to decipher your doctor’s handwritten notes. The information in your electronic record can be much more easily shared. For example, you can put your records on a flash drive when visiting a new doctor.

    Providers also can share your health information with each other (with your permission) when needed. This helps avoid duplication of tests and other services, reduces medical errors, clarifies medication issues, and provides for better coordination of care, especially if you have many health providers.

    On the other hand, electronic health records, including PHI present potential security issues, so be sure to use proper caution when sharing this vital information.
8 Things You Should Know About Your Medical Records
  1. Your Medical Records. HHS.gov. http://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-individuals/medical-records/index.html
  2. Benefits of EHRs. HealthIT.gov. https://www.healthit.gov/providers-professionals/improved-care-coordination
  3. Getting Your Medical Records. Center for Democracy & Technology. https://cdt.org/insight/getting-your-medical-records/#howmuch
  4. Individuals’ Right under HIPAA to Access their Health Information 45 CFR § 164.524. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/privacy/guidance/access/index.html
  5. Quick Stats, updated June 17, 2019. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://dashboard.healthit.gov/quickstats/quickstats.php
  6. National Electronic Health Records Survey. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nehrs/surveyproducts.htm#healthestats
  7. When and Where You Need It Most: Your Rights to Access and Transmit Your Health Information. Health IT Buzz. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1GvIrpUgreNaSBTFRhHH6DhMb3v-S7_Sy9769L0p7Aaw/edit#
  8. Consumer Access and Use of Online Health Records: It Takes Two to Tango. Health IT Buzz. http://www.healthit.gov/buzz-blog/consumer/consumer-access-online-health-records/

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Last Review Date: 2020 Dec 22
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.